Good Works in Galatians

A friend of mine posted a passage from Galatians earlier today:

“Galatians 5:13: For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

A great passage, which reminds us of the importance of serving one another, and in a loving manner. That is, serve one another by love, not out of some sense of necessity. Of course, this makes it a part of the greater teaching we find throughout Scripture, but in particular in Paul’s letters about the danger of “empty” works, or works done in the interest of attaining salvation.

However, another question arises. What happens if you don’t comply with this line? What is the risk? There are some groups who would teach that the doing of works is utterly irrelevant. Most notably, various strains of protestantism. So, is this the case? Is there anything we can take from this passage to address this question? For those that don’t have a problem with the importance of works in our salvation, we still must ask the question of how we can learn to serve others by love. What is the key?

As it turns out, both the answer to what it means to not have works and the key exists a bit further on. St. Paul continues with the famous passage about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. He basically sets a stage for the conclusion that comes in verse 24, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” From this we learn two things, the first is that crucifying our flesh is the means by which we establish ourselves as Christ’s (there would be some, I suppose, who would argue that after Christ makes us his, then we automatically crucify our flesh, but that is both a fairly tortured reading, and inconsistent with experience). The second thing is that it is by this crucifying of our flesh that we learn to love others. That is the crux of Orthodox spirituality. We are to serve other’s by love, that happens when we are walking in the Spirit, and that can only happen when we crucify our flesh of the passions. That is why asceticism figures so prominently. If you think about it, how can we truly love other’s if we are focused on our desires? Christ, who is not only the ultimate example of love, but is, in fact, love itself, demonstrates this for us.